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Otter signs order authorizing sage grouse task force as wind project delayed  

Credit:  Rocky Barker, Letters from the West, voices.idahostatesman.com 9 March 2012 ~~

Former Idaho State Sen. Stan Hawkins is a rancher, a farmer and foe to wind turbines in Idaho.

Hawkins was a smart, irascible, iconoclastic conservative senator who often out maneuvered his opponents by knowing their issue better than they did. He has returned to Boise to convince his colleagues that a two-year moratorium is needed for wind generation plants.

Long a voice for regionalism and local control, Hawkins has decided to push for a state-enforced moratorium because he thinks wind energy is too costly. He also believes that wind projects proposed across Idaho’s sagebrush sea will lead to a listing of sage grouse under the federal Endangered Species Act.

And he thinks Gov. Butch Otter’s stated efforts to increase renewable energy development in the state at the same time he’s working on a plan to protect sage grouse will conflict.

“For the governor to say he’s trying to keep sage grouse off the endangered species list and supporting all these wind turbines in prime sage grouse habitat defies reason,” Hawkins said.

Otter signed an executive order today to formally begin the effort to develop an Idaho sage grouse management plan. A task force he appointed meets Monday.

“The listing of the species would have a significant impact on Idaho’s customs, culture, economy and way of life,” Otter said. “But I’m confident our Idaho stakeholders will be able to develop workable, reasonable and effective recommendations to conserve the species and preclude the need to list.”

He may have gotten some help from the BLM Thursday when it deferred for two years a decision on the $500 million China Mountain Wind project on the Nevada border.

This is a project that would have produced a lot of power and a lot of jobs. But it also was built in the middle of some of the best sage grouse habitat in both states.

The company had proposed mitigating the impacts but much of the habitat surrounding China Mountain burned, making it even more critical for sage grouse. Sure, the environmentalists opposed it including the Idaho Conservation League.

“We support renewable energy including wind but China Mountain was in the wrong place,” said Lara Rozzell, an energy fellow with the group.

Hawkins has been trying to convince his friends in the livestock industry that they would have to do more for sage grouse to make up for the losses caused by China Mountain. Some had a financial interest in the project.

“China Mountain should scare every cattleman to death,” Hawkins said. “If that project is built it could tip us over the edge.”

Elko County, Nevada Commissioners didn’t see it that way, the Elko Daily Free Press reported. Commissioner Charlie Meyers was unhappy that a “stupid bird” could kill such an important project to the economy.

And Commissioner Glen Guttry saw the effort to protect the bid as a way to alter the Western way of life, which apparently now includes building renewable energy projects.

Brian Kelly, the Idaho state supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said he fears people will focus too much on grazing issues and not enough on energy development, both oil and gas and renewable and the development that is associated with them.

If there was nothing else going on the landscape except grazing its unlikely we would list,” Kelly said. “If all we did was ensure that grazing would be done properly this bird would still be in trouble.”

That means some painful choices are going to have to be made. For instance, the new Blaine County airport is proposed in the heart of sage grouse habitat nearly as good as China Mountain. They may have to pick another place.

The proposed high transmission lines may end up having to cross more private land than the Idaho counties want. Will Otter’s plan put in place enforceable restrictions to make sure these decisions are made?

If ranchers think they can continue the status quo in many areas that’s not the impression Kelly wanted to leave them with. They may have to adjust their grazing calendar to protect rearing sage grouse broods and places fences differently, for instance.

Assistant House Majority Leader, Scott Bedke, a rancher from Oakley, said he and other cowboys are on board.

“I think the livestock industry is ready to adapt,” he said.

As Otter begins his sage grouse odyssey, he may have to consider the same kind of statewide framework Hawkins is proposing even if he rejects a moratorium. It may be that a statewide energy siting approach is the only way to keep the “stupid bird” off the list.

Source:  Rocky Barker, Letters from the West, voices.idahostatesman.com 9 March 2012

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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